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The coolest summer travel destinations for wine lovers (that aren’t Napa)

The best places for a wine vacation

Brewer-Clifton vineyard view.
Brewer Clifton

With almost 300 American Viticultural Areas on our map, there’s never been a better time to explore domestic wine country. Summer is right around the bend, and wine-soaked adventures beckon.

Wine vacations are the best kind of vacation. You get the beauty of wine country, the satisfaction of wine tasting, and it’s all often in untouched landscapes where there are parks, trails, and more. Outdoor enthusiasts get their share but city folks do too, with so many charming wine country towns full of great restaurants and tasting rooms.

Turns out, some of the best summer vacation spots in the US are also standout wine regions. Plan your next adventure around one of the following. We love you, Napa, but you can avoid the crowds and get equally good wine at the following spots.

McMinnville

A scene from The Vines Global's May 2023 trip to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Andrew Davey/The Manual / The MAnual

If there’s a more adorable Willamette Valley town than McMinnville, we’d like to hear about it. The small college town boasts historic Third Street, home to wine bars, hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants like ōkta, James Beard Award winners like Nick’s Italian (set to reopen soon) and Hayward, and working wineries. Countless wineries reside within a 20-mile radius of the city of 35,000, including standouts like Remy Wines and Archery Summit in the Dundee Hills and The Carlton Winemakers Studio in nearby Carlton. Do an overnight at The Atticus Hotel in town or sleep amongst the vines—and in an old farm silo, no less—at Abbey Road Farm. McMinnville is just an hour’s drive from Portland and the best-situated town in all of Willamette Valley wine country. Pinot Noir is still king here, but the latest generation of winemaking talent is working with a whole lot more, reviving classics like Chardonnay and crafting lesser-knowns like Savagnin.

Palisade

Palisade, Colorado.
Visit Palisade / Facebook

Colorado wine has become a thing worth taking note of and one can experience a nice slice of the scene in Palisade. Some 30 labels operate right in and around town, making high-elevation wines like Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Malbec, and more. The scenery is plucked straight from a post card, with lush agricultural fields spilling into rugged watersheds and towering vistas in the background. Travel the Fruit and Wine Byway for a good taste of the local industry, and after a bike ride or hike at the Palisade Rim Trailhead, fuel up at Caroline’s Restaurant or Palisade Brewing Company. There are a host of great lodging options in the area, including some on wine properties, but we’re especially drawn to the historical charm of the Wine Valley Inn. Part of the intrigue here is that the Colorado wine world is just coming into its own and, therefore, feels like an exciting new frontier.

Santa Barbara

Alma Rosa vineyard.
Alma Rosa / Alma Rosa

The Santa Barbara area remains one of the most thrilling wine scenes in America. The unique climate makes for some great Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but producers are experimenting more than ever these days with many other grape varieties. The Sta Rita Hills is a must-visit appellation, with talented labels like Alma Rosa showing just how bright and fresh wine can be. Brewer-Clifton is another top producer (Greg has his own outstanding side label, too), and while you’re in town, be sure to check out the Public Market or the delicious and stylish Barbareño. With the surf just paces away, don’t forget to rent a board or start the day with a morning SUP paddle. The relaxed SoCal atmosphere will put you at ease.

New Braunfels

The Cabins at Camp Milagro in New Braunfels, Texas
NA

Deep in the heart of Texas resides an old German town of about 100,000. New Braunfels is incredible inviting, with great bakeries, cafes, shops, and more, and just a short drive from San Antonio, Austin, and the fantastic Hill Country wine area. Book a table at the historic Gristmill River Restaurant and check out what’s fresh at 2Tarts. Be sure to make the trek up to C.L. Butaud for an example of just how delectable Texas wines can be. Go Old World in style at La Cruz de Comal and consider a room at the Gruene Mansion Inn. Sure, you’ll experience BBQ-friendly wines like Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but there’s some interesting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon bubbling up too, not to mention some indigenous species too. Grab a bottle and have a picnic at a nearby park, or go subterranean at the nearby Natural Bridge Caverns.

Charlottesville

The Star Hill Brewery at Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo Credit: Star Hill Downtown/Facebook NA

A bit like Colorado, Virginia has a solid wine industry that’s not getting the credit it deserves. Best, a lot of the scene is accessible from the historic city of Charlottesville. Considered the gateway to Shenandoah National Park, the town of about 50K is in prime striking distance from the many beauties and natural wonders of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In town, try the classic southern cuisine of The Ridley, get a pint at Star Hill, and stay the night at the bucolic Clifton. In terms of wine, look for fun varietals like Petite Manseng and deftly-made Bordeaux blends. This is where American wine started, so a visit here feels a bit like a pilgrimage. Check out the Monticello Wine Trail and look for superb offerings from labels like Barboursville Vineyards and Michael Shaps Wineworks.

Honolulu

An aerial view of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Eric Tessmer / Wikimedia

Honolulu compensates for a lack of vineyards and AVAs with world-class hospitality and, tons of wine-centric establishments, and a thriving sommelier culture. From Senia to Island Vintage, there’s a memorable wine experience around every street corner. Taormina is another great option, a Sicilian restaurant with a handsome wine list worth digging into. Obviously, get out to Waikiki Beach and consider a hike along the Makiki Valley Trail (quieter than Diamond Head). We know you won’t want to leave, so be sure to check out some of the best Honolulu hotels for an extended stay.

Wine and adventure go hand in hand, a pairing for the ages. Check out our Willamette Valley wine guide as well as our Sonoma County wine guide. Now, get out there and try something new.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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